Nuts have been cultivated and eaten throughout the world for thousands of years. They are a good source of unsaturated fat and protein. The FDA recommends that everyone should eat 1 1/2 ounces of nuts everyday. Some nut trees such as almonds have time tested cultivars that are used for production around the world, others like hazelnuts are wild selected and farmed varieties while others, like Brazil nuts, are still collected in the wild.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, there were 4.4 million acres of almonds being grown around the world in 2002. Forty-two percent of those were grown in California. Almonds first made their way to California in the 1700s with the Spanish missionaries, but cultivation of the almond dates back to Greece in 8000 B.C. where archaeological evidence of cultivation has shown up. Almonds (Prunus dulcis) are a mid-size tree, generally 15 feet tall in production, but slightly taller when not well pruned. They have flowers similar to cherry blossoms, a tree to which they are closely related. They like mild winters without much freezing and warm dry summers. California has the perfect climate for almonds.
Seventy-four million pounds of hazelnuts were produced in the United States in 2004, according to the USDA. Almost all of those were grown in Oregon's Willamette Valley on 28,000 acres. Hazelnuts like the cool summers and mild winters of the western Oregon valleys and are grown in similar climates in the northern hemisphere such as the French Atlantic coast and around the Black Sea in Turkey. Hazelnut trees (scientific name Corylus avellana) grow naturally as a bush with many sucker branches forming around the base. Most growers cut these and train it to grow as a single trunk tree up to 15 feet tall. One tree can produce up to 25 pounds of nuts a year.
The Brazil nut tree (scientific name Bertholletia excelsa) towers over 200 feet in the Amazon rainforest basin. Like many species of plants, it relies on animals to spread its seeds, but the Brazil nut is unique. It depends on a large rodent called the agouti. The agouti is one of the only animals with teeth sharp enough to crack the seed pods of the Brazil nut. It gnaws open the coconut-like seed pod containing numerous Brazil nuts, then buries them around the forest for later consumption. The agouti has a bad memory though, and inevitably many of the buried nuts are forgotten and they sprout into new trees, far away from the parent. Brazil nuts do not produce fruit in cultivation so they are exclusively harvested in their natural habitat. They depend on one species of bee that only lives in the Amazon to pollinate the flowers in order to produce.